Alva Vanderbilt, the super competitive wife of William K. Vanderbilt, was throwing a masquerade ball at her new Fifth Avenue chateau. On the guest list were the highest members of New York society.
While Alva Vanderbilt went as a Venetian Renaissance Princess and some of the 1,200 guests came as Daniel Boone, Queen Elizabeth, and Father Knickerbocker, her sister-in-law Alice upstaged everyone by showing up as “Electric Light.”
Electricity was all the rage at the time—some streets were now illuminated with electric light, and Thomas Edison’s generating station on Pearl Street had opened the year before.
The ball wasn’t just another social event for rich New Yorkers. It was designed to gain Alva Vanderbilt acceptance into the city’s old-money society world, then ruled by Caroline Astor.
Alva’s plan worked, she officially joined New York society, and her ball became a legend.
The electric ball gown, meanwhile, joined the collection at the Museum of the City of New York, where it is on display now at Gilded New York.
[Top photo: Alice and her electric gown; middle, from the MCNY; bottom, Alice and her husband, Cornelius, who came to the ball as Louis XVI]